Are you worried that you may have a bored dog? Dogs are energetic creatures with a deep desire to play and socialize. When they've been stagnant for too long, dogs get bored, and a bored dog is an unhappy one. Recognizing boredom in your dog is an important part of dog-parenthood, and playing games with your dog is a great way to reenergize him.
Create an Enriching Environment
Keeping animals stimulated is important, and no one recognizes the importance as much as zoos. Providing a stimulating environment at zoos is called "enrichment," and dogs need an enriching environment in their home, too.
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute states, "Enrichment includes the design of stimulating and naturalistic enclosures, the housing of appropriate social groups in zoos, and the introduction of objects, sounds, smells or other stimuli in the animal's environment. Environmental enrichment is just as critical to zoo animal welfare as nutrition and veterinary medicine. At the National Zoo, enrichment is an integral part of the daily care of the species in our collection."
Do you introduce new stimuli to your dog? How about mixing up the games you play? Even active dogs can get bored if their routine becomes, well, too routine. Here are five signs your dog is bored, and a list of games you can play to reenergize him.
Signs of a bored dog, and games to keep him enriched and entertained
If you've noticed your dog has been barking more frequently than normal, there's a good chance that you have a bored dog on your hands. Out-of-the-blue barking is one way a dog can get the attention of his pet parent, even if he doesn't appear to be barking at you. Think of it as a mild way of acting out.
Training is a great way to play with your dog. You might think that your dog won't like training, but that isn't true. Dogs enjoy being busy and having a job to do. Give your dog mini-missions. First, teach your dog how to stay. Next, while in the staying position, throw a toy and allow it to land. After waiting, let your dog out of the staying position, with whatever command you use ("okay" or "go"). Once he reaches the toy, have him deliver it back to you. Practice it over and over, and your bored dog will suddenly become a sleepy dog.
Bored dogs tend to become destructive. If your once-angelic pup is chewing your couch or shoes, or anything else for that matter, it's time to take action to stop the behavior before it becomes a regular issue.
Tug-of-war is a great game to play with a dog who loves to have something in his mouth. However, before playing any games that involve chewing or using a snout, make sure to train your dog what is okay to eat and what isn't.
Also, food-related games are great to play with chewers, as long as you're careful not to over feed your pet. There are many ways you use food to play with your dog. First, you could buy a puzzle feeder to make your dog work hard for his treats. Also, try hiding little pieces of kibble in one room and then letting your dog play detective. If he finds a treat, it's his to eat!
Has your dog suddenly started chasing his tail? Do you find him pacing the room in circular motions? A circle runner has a lot of energy to burn off.
Exercise is the best form of playing for a highly energetic dog. A game of Frisbee® or ball toss is a great game to play. Other ways to burn off energy are long walks or even brisk runs. As long as you're staying active, any games that require physical activity will work.
Just like babies, dogs whine when they need a little more attention from you. And also, like babies, the whining can be overwhelming and even annoying for the parents. Before playing any games, take a step back for a second and analyze the situation. Yes, a whining dog can be frustrating, but why is your dog whining? It's simple: he needs you. When you change your perspective, the whining suddenly becomes a lot less annoying, and you'll do anything to help ease your dog's boredom.
Here's the great thing about a whining dog: anything you do to play will entertain him! Hide-and-seek is a fun game to play with your dog. If you have children, encourage them to join in on the fun. Have one person hide, and then encourage your dog to go find him or her.
You knew you were popular, but you didn't think you were so popular that you'd be followed all evening long. Your dog wants to be your sidekick. He's a pack animal, and you're his leader. This means he'll be following you until you give him something else to do.
For a dog who literally spends hours at your heels, why don't you try a game of Simon Says. Start with your dog on one side of your yard in a "stay" position. Then cross the yard and call for your dog to follow a command. Easy commands are "sit" or "down," but if you want to make it more difficult, try calling "come" for your dog to come to you, and then "stop" to make your dog halt in his tracks. Similar to the other games for dogs, make sure to reward your dog with praise when he follows the Simon Says directions correctly. If he fails on any commands, have him move back to the starting side of your yard.
Some of the behaviors noted above can also be signs of underlying health concerns. If you have concerns about your dog's new actions, contact your vet to rule out any health problems.
If you don't have the time to play games with your pup, make sure you have plenty of toys you can share with him when you are extremely busy. While you don't always need to have a new toy every time, it's best to alternate the toys, hiding some, so even old toys feel like new after a while.
And remember, the easiest way to avoid a bored dog is to keep him occupied. Regularly walking and playing with your dog will keep him happy and content and you'll enjoy it, too.
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform, and even transform its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.